Across the nation universities are dealing with buildings named in honor of white supremacists: Benjamin Tillman (Clemson), Woodrow Wilson (Princeton), John C. Calhoun (Yale), and others.
Yet in the April 14 issue of the Greenville Journal, the paper honors the 90th anniversary of a local university named for one such individual, Bob Jones, Sr.
To be sure, officials at this university deny that the school has ever been racist.
Bob Jones, III is quoted denying that the ban on interracial dating was racist, since it was promulgated before blacks were admitted as students. But does not the ban on the admission of blacks constitute a very powerful form of racism itself? Discrimination and segregation on the basis of race is racism. The prohibition on black enrollment was racism and the limitation of the university’s Christian education to white students a manifestation of white supremacism.
Furthermore, the stipulation that black students, once enrolled, only marry “within their race” was racism, and the continuation of that policy until the end of the century was a continuation of racism. Has this attitude changed? John Chrysostom famously exhorted, “Let the sinner’s repentance be as notorious as his sin.”
Has the Bob Jones University leadership truly repented from its racist past?
In the Greenville Journal article Bob Jones, III is further quoted saying that the interracial dating ban was “so insignificant to the school and never talked about.’ This is a remarkable statement by the same man who fought the IRS over the school’s loss of tax exempt status due to this very issue. That fight was taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, hardly an effort to be expended for an “insignificant” matter. This was a principled fight by the university to preserve both its tax-exempt classification and its ban on interracial dating.
The Journal article quotes current President Steven Pettit as saying, concerning the repeal of the ban on interracial dating, that “this was not a hill to die on.”
Consider that metaphor for a moment. It means that interracial dating was no longer an issue the university leadership considered important enough to continue the fight. In truth, as my daughter wisely stated, this was not a hill that they should have been on in the first place!
Pettit also states that the dating issue is “a social and cultural issue, not a biblical issue.” As an evangelical pastor I can hardly accept the dichotomy between biblical and social, believing as most evangelicals do, that biblical principles have their most abiding influence on social and cultural norms.
Historically, the ending of the slave trade and the eventual abolition of slavery were movements led by evangelical Christians like William Wilberforce. Is Pettit saying that the university continues to advocate segregation of the races as a “social and cultural” issue, though not as a biblical one?
Why is it so hard for the university’s leadership to acknowledge that the school’s attitude was wrong? Not insignificant, not unbiblical, not unimportant, but wrong? The only person in leadership who has actually apologized for the school’s attitude toward race relations is former President Stephen Jones, who sadly was not interviewed for the article.
Bob Jones University does have a well-deserved reputation for academics. The institution has the right to attempt a change in worldview, and to distance itself from that past. Unfortunately the comments quoted in The Journal article leave room for doubt regarding the sincerity of this attempt. Perhaps, a movement should begin to take down the name so long associated with institutionalized racism.
If Bob Jones University were a rose, then it would certainly smell sweeter to many by another name.
Dr. Hartman has been pastoring elder at Fellowship Bible Church. He is a chemical engineer by degree and training, with a Masters of Divinity from Greenville Presbyterian Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte.